All out of love, but not out of hits
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WHERE: Clay Center
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
TICKETS: $35 and $45
"I really don't know much about songwriting," he said. "I've been doing it for 50 years, but it's still a great mystery to me."
It's a mystery that more than once was lightning in a bottle for the soft-rock juggernauts best known for hits like "All Out of Love," "Lost in Love," "Here I Am" and "Making Love Out of Nothing at All." The duo, which performs Friday at the Clay Center, scored eight hit singles, one release after another, in the early 1980s.
In pop music, it is a remarkable feat and has been achieved by only a handful of bands, including the Beatles. Russell said neither he nor his musical partner, Russell Hitchcock, expected they'd do that.
"We used to think about that, what it would be like," Russell said. "We never expected it to happen."
And even when it did happen, they were really too busy to enjoy it.
"Those first five or six years, we were always on the road," he said. "We'd hop on a bus for nine months, come off, go home to Australia for three months, do another album and do it all over again.
"While we had all those hits, it was like we knew it was happening, but it was like we were watching it happen from the outside looking in."
Air Supply was founded in 1975 after Russell and Hitchcock met during a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" in Australia. The group had moderate success there then suddenly hit big in the U.S. in 1980 with "Lost in Love." Two other singles followed that year, and the band became a musical phenomenon.
"There were a couple of groups like us," Russell said. "Like The Police, they were very big at about the same time. We were different genres, but the same kind of thing."
Air Supply's popularity waned somewhat in the United States toward the middle of the decade. The band charted fewer hits but still continued to release records and perform around the world.
Some of the places were new for acts known primarily in the English-speaking world. In 1995, Air Supply toured China.
"That was very weird," Russell remembered. "We'd play an arena with 25 thousand seats, and everyone sat down. Around the perimeter, there was all the Red Guard with machine guns. If anyone even looked like they were going to stand up, the guards would motion for them to remain seated."
Air Supply also played Vietnam, Taiwan and El Salvador, which not only made the band new fans but also opened up venues for many other artists.
Lately, of course, Air Supply has had a nice resurgence.
"We released our 16th record last year, and surprise, surprise, we had two Top 30 hits," he laughed.
Russell has no idea how that happened. As far as he can tell, Air Supply still does the same thing it's always done.
He writes most of the songs, though songwriting isn't something he plans for.
"I just know when it's coming," he said. "I'm a big believer in inspiration strikes pretty fast. It's like thunder and lightning and you have to grab it."
Air Supply's best work, Russell said, was all written in just a few minutes.
"Lost in Love was written in 15 minutes. Most of our other big hits were written in half an hour or maybe an hour. That's just the way they come."
After the songs are written, Russell often records them and plays them for Hitchcock, who has final say on what he sings.
"Russell has the high voice," Graham Russell said. "It's much higher than mine, and usually, he'll say something about whether we should take it up a couple of steps or drop it down lower."
And sometimes he turns the song down or pushes it back toward Russell.
"We let the universe take its shape," he said. "We don't plan that much."
The music, Russell added, really isn't very complicated: just four or five chords, none of them especially fancy. No one, he said, is ever wondering how he did something.
"But our music is passionate," he said. "It comes from a great place. It's love, and love is serious, not complicated. Love is the simplest thing in the world, even if we don't know anything about it -- least of all, me."
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195.